YouthSpeak No.6 June, 2009

Presidential Note
A thought for the Untouchables

Speaking Out: Can we help it?

A thought for the untouchables

It has been twenty years since the popular east/west Berlin wall was pulled down. Indeed, it has been twenty years of reunion and progressive move towards development, here in Germany. We are also celebrating six decades of civil rights, which have offered better chances for women and children, more attention to discriminations against people with handicaps or belonging to the LGBT movement, among others. Both achievements were achieved not on a platter of gold but through the sweat of those who chose to speak out, rather than die complaining or in silence. For example, in the 60s we had a strong political youth movement,here in Germany, where students started revolutions against the government to raise their voice officially. Although it created later an active way of violence and death, the beginning and reasons for demonstrating was noble and could still be honoured. This and many other activities are milestones on our way to 'freedom' and peaceful co-existence.

But this has not been the case in many countries all over the world. All over the world people are suffering from disciriminations and criminal denials of their basic rights. Even here in German all is not a 'bed of Roses' story as we are still talking about differences and discrimination between men and women, between social classes and other groups. But it is a long term process. Maybe a similar start is already done in Asia, Africa and the Carribeans, but compared to the German step there might be need for more 'speaking outs', and networking for change.

The fight against discrimination of the untouchables, the seperation in different classes, is still a high political and social problem in many countries of the world. For that reason, IHEU is focusing our attention in the beginning of June to examining this issue. The Untouchability Conference will take place from 9th till 10th June in London and will offer ample opportunity to people coming out of that class or working in these areas to make their problems visible and to give them again an official voice to the public space.

There are always questions and questions in our mind and maybe we do not find answers directly after raising them, but it is much worthful to start thinking about such questions than never raising one about our being, about our behaviour, about our world. For in questions lie our desired answers, which will enrich our 'speaking outs' that will change our world!

With regards from IHEYO.

Silvana Uhlrich

Atheist and the Genie

An atheist buys an ancient lamp at an auction, takes it home, and begins to polish it. Suddenly, a genie appears, and says, “I’ll grant you three wishes, Master.”
The atheist says, “I wish I could believe in you.” The genie snaps his fingers, and suddenly the atheist believes in him.
The atheist says, “Wow. I wish all atheists would believe this.” The genie snaps his fingers again, and suddenly atheists all over the world begin to believe in genies.
“What about your third wish?” asks the genie. “Well,” says the atheist, “I wish for a billion dollars.” The genie snaps his fingers for a third time, but nothing happens. “What’s wrong?” asks the atheist. The genie shrugs and says, “Just because you believe in me, doesn’t necessarily mean that I really exist.”

Atheist Centre

Atheist Centre is a social change institution founded by Gora (1902-1975) and Saraswathi Gora (1912) in the year 1940 at Mudnur village in Krishna district, Andhra Pradesh, India. On the eve of the Independence to the country, Atheist Centre was shifted to Vijayawada in 1947 and since then it has been the hub of activity for promotion of atheism, humanism and social change.
Atheist Centre carries on its multifarious activities with the cooperation and good will of the people. Since the demise of Gora in 1975, Atheist Centre carries on all its activities under the able guidance of Ms Saraswathi Gora, the co-founder of the Centre. She is assisted by the dedicated team of people who are engaged in the promotion of atheism as a way of life.
Atheist Centre is also actively engaged in Secular Social Work activities for comprehensive rural development and rendering assistance to people to develop an alternate way of life on secular and humanist lines. The Centre maintains live-wire contact with the humanists, atheist, secularists, rationalists and social change workers in different parts of the world.

Gora (the founder of the Centre) and family, along with some 'other colleagues, was associated with Gandhi and the nationalist movement. They participated in the freedom struggle and underwent imprisonment. Gora had long discussions with Mahatma Gandhi on atheism and social change and the discussions have been published in the form of a book entitled, "An Atheist with Gandhi", published by the Navajivan, the official publishers of Gandhian literature.

Even in the post-Gandhian period, Atheist Centre is closely associated with the Bhoodan movement of Vinoba Bhave and other Gandhian activities all over the country. Thus Atheist Centre is in the mainstream of national life, maintaining its distinctive position with its non-religious, humanist and atheist approach.

Atheist Centre, Benz Circle
Vijayawada 520010, AP, India

Icelandic Civic Movement MPs Renounce Mass in Cathedral

Three out of four MPs of the Civic Movement boycotted the traditional mass in the Cathedral in Reykjavík before a new parliamentary session begins in May and instead waited on Austurvöllur parliamentary square.
“We don’t think it’s appropriate to mix religion and parliamentary work and we don’t condone that the first thing that the MPs do when they reconvene is to go to mass together,” MP for the Civic Movement Birgitta Jónsdóttir told Fréttabladid.

The other two MPs from her party who did not to attend the mass are Thór Saari and Margrét Tryggvadóttir, while the fourth, Thráinn Bertelsson, joined the rest of the parliament and went for the mass. However, according to Jónsdóttir, there are a few MPs from other parties who also refrained from attending the Cathedral mass.

But usually people have just hidden inside parliament if they don’t go to the Cathedral. We are just being forthright about the matter. There are so many traditions that perhaps aren’t appropriate today.”

Sidmennt, the association of ethical humanists in Iceland, organised a talk and invited MPs to attend a think piece by philosopher Jóhann Björnsson at Hótel Borg before parliament reconvenes, instead of the mass. Björnsson talked about the importance of good morality in the interest of the nation.

Iranian Authorities block Facebook amid heated election campaign

What the Iranian authorities give, they can easily take away, as shown by the government's seesawing attitude toward Facebook, the popular social-networking website that it apparently ordered blocked to ordinary Web surfers in recent days. There's no official word, but most assume it's to try to minimize the effect the site might have on the outcome of the critical June 12 presidential elections.

Iranian Internet-service providers had long banned Facebook, making it inaccessible to dial-up and broadband users. Government officials were fearful it could be used by intelligence officials abroad to recruit operatives or by activists to organize anti-government protests. But in January, after watching the way activists were using Facebook to promote opposition to the Israeli offensive in the Gaza Strip, Iranian authorities apparently warmed up to the quirky website and quietly lifted the ban. Thousands of Iranians signed up to use Facebook, many of them "friending" other Iranians in the Diaspora.

Tech-savvy Iranians quickly began using the website to organize events in support of candidates in the upcoming presidential elections. According to the Iranian Labor News Agency, the site was proving especially successful in pushing the candidacy of former Prime Minister Mir Hossein Mousavi, the most liberal of the candidates challenging President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.

Peter Tatchell: The 'Megaphone' of the Oppressed

Peter Gary Tatchell is an Australian-born British human rights activist, who gained international celebrity for his attempted citizen's arrest of Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe in 1999 and 2001 on charges of torture and other human rights abuses.; for his harassment at the Moscow Gay Campaign of 2007; and for his disruption of the procession of the Olympic torch through London in April 2008.

Born on 25 January 1952, Tatchell was selected as Labour Party Parliamentary candidate for Bermondsey in 1981, and was denounced by party leader Michael Foot for supporting extra-parliamentary action against the Thatcher government; though the Labour Party subsequently allowed his selection, when he ran in the Bermondsey by-election in February 1983. In the 1990s, he becamea prominent gay equality and LGBT campaigner through the direct action group OutRage!, which he co-founded. He has tackled a wide variety of human rights issues, and is a frequent contributor on such subjects in print and through broadcast media authoring thousands of articles and six books. In 2006,New Statesman readers voted him sixth on their list of "Heroes of our time". In April 2007 he became the Green Party prospective parliamentary candidate in the constituency of Oxford East.

Peter had discovered his homosexuality in 1969, and four days after arriving he spotted a sticker on a lamp-post in Oxford Street advertising a meeting of the London Gay Liberation Front (GLF). He quickly became a leading member of the group until it disintegrated in 1974. During his time in GLF Tatchell was prominent in organising sit-ins at pubs that refused to serve “poofs”, and protests against police harassment and the medical classification of homosexuality as an illness. Tatchell has also been veciferous in his call for the enforcement of the laws against incitement to violence and murder, and has organised protests outside the concerts of singers whose lyrics urge the killing of queers. A long-running target of his criticism has been reggae artists whose lyrics encourage and glorify violence, including murder, of lesbians and gay men. Tatchell's campaign began in the early 1990s when Buju Banton's song "Boom bye-bye" was released and has continued to date. Banton's song urges listeners to shoot gay men in the head. He has picketed the MOBO Awards ceremony to protest at their inviting performers of what he terms "murder music".
Tatchell opposed the Iraq war and the occupation of Iraq by the United States. For nearly three decades he supported the Iraqi Left Opposition. He supported helping them remove the government of Saddam Hussein by force because of the gross violations of human rights Saddam had committed against democrats, left-wingers, trade unionists, Shia Muslims and the Kurdish people, and because under Saddam's dictatorship there were no opportunities for peaceful, democratic change. He advocated military and financial aid to opponents of the Saddam government in order to assist them to overthrow it; specifically suggesting that anti-Saddam organisations be given "tanks, helicopter gun-ships, fighter planes, heavy artillery and anti-tank and anti-aircraft missiles".

In May 2007, Peter Tatchell went to Moscow, Russia, to support Moscow Pride and to voice his opposition to a city-wide ban on the planned gay pride march. He went there at the invitation of Russian LGBT activists. On 27 May 2007 Tatchell and other gay rights activists were attacked by religious conservatives, neo-nazis and fascists. Tatchell was punched in the face and nearly knocked unconscious, while other demonstrators were beaten, kicked, and assaulted. A German MP, Volker Beck, and a European Parliament deputy from Italy, Marco Capatto, were similarly subjected to punches before being arrested and questioned by police. Tatchell later said "I'm not deterred one iota from coming back to protest in Moscow."

In April 2008, Tatchell attempted to disrupt the procession of the Olympic torch through London. As a protest against China's human rights record he stood in front of the bus carrying the torch along Oxford Street while carrying a placard calling on Beijing to "Free Tibet, Free Hu Jia" (the name of a recently jailed human rights activist). Tatchell was taken away by police but was not charged. In an interview Tatchell called on the world to boycott the opening ceremony of the Olympics, or to take other visible action. True to his words in 2007, Tatchell returned to Russia in 2009 for another Gay campaign on 16 May 2009 on the invitation of the Russian gay rights activists. Staged in Moscow in defiance of the city's mayor Yuri Luzkhov who has long banned all gay demos and denounced them as "satanic", Peter Tatchell was among the 32 campaigners who were arrested by police when they shouted slogans and unfurled banners urging gay human rights in Russia. The protest was staged to coincide with the final of the Eurovision Song Contest that was being held in Moscow and was widely covered by the world's media.

It is for these 'speaking outs' that we have chosen to honor Peter Gary Tatchell as our Humanist Potrait for this month. We wish him many more years of these freedom imbued activities.

Aluta continua, victoria ascerta!!

Sidment's 'Morality not Religion' idea

On Wednesday, 13 May, 2009, at a monthly meeting of Sidment, a brilliant idea occurred to the board members, of which I am president. We implemented it in less than 36 hours and have been getting praise from around the world!

The new session of the Althing, the Icelandic Parliament, is alway opened with the Members of Parliament going into the main cathedral in Reykjavik which is next door to the Parliament building and sitting through a mass held by the Bishop and some other ministers of the Icelandic Lutheran state church. Afterwards they all parade out of church and into the House of Parliament. After the Icelandic government collapsed recently and elections were held, the new government was established last Sunday and Parliament was convened on Friday. Sidmennt decided to offer a secular alternative to the traditional mass and we invited every Member of Parliament to attend a thought provoking short talk right across the street given by one of our celebrants who is a philosopher, on the subject of the importance of ethics in politics.

We sent announcements to all the media in Iceland and they all picked up on it. We posted it on Facebook as well and and it set the blog world on fire. We have received enormous praise and a groundswell in favor of complete separation of church and state and condemnation of the religious service that has always been connected with the Althing which is an entirely worldly institution. People wrote things like "we need to listen to more philosophers, not more clergy". Sidmennt's mottoes are "It's valuable to have choices" and "It's all right to be different".

On Friday we got fabulous media coverage. Every TV and radio station and every newspaper and web news service repeated the news of our event throughout the day. Around 20 people showed up, 4 of whom were very brave new Members of Parliament and one City Council member. Iceland has a total of 63 MPs. One of the MPs who attended our event told us that her party which includes a majority of people in favor of separation of church and state, but also has a handful of religious people one or two of whom are clergymen, exerted enormous pressure on her to NOT come to our event.

Our philosopher gave an excellent 10 minute talk with lots of great advice for politicians and we served coffee and cake in a ritzy private room of a fashionable hotel across the street from the Althing. When we went outside many people praised and congratulated us. We posted the speech on our website, sent it to the media, and said we will continue to offer this alternative to the traditional Parliamentary Mass. There have only been a very few disgruntled believers writing on blogs and criticizing the event.

There were many protest demonstrations in front of the Althing about many issues (mostly about the economic collapse in Iceland) and some of the signs said things like "4 billion kronur Mass" The state church receives 4 billion Icelandic kronur per year in government funding. Many people at the protest who were interviewed on the news said they thought it was outrageous and inappropriate that Parliament is opened with a religious ceremony in this day and age. The MPs who attended our event said they saw absolutely no reason why religion should be connected in any way with Parliament.

We got an unbelievable amount of free publicity and positive press coverage on this event which was organized in less than 36 hours and have been feeling very proud of ourselves.

Hope Knutsson, is the president of Sidmennt, the Icelandic Ethical Humanist Association, Iceland

Speaking Out: Can we help it?


Many do not know the philosophy underpinning the naming of this e-zine as YouthSpeak!. Well the idea is: Speaking Out Youths. This is premised on the need to offer humanist youths everywhere, and anywhere, the platform and opportunity to air their views, unchained! And this, indeed, has been our guiding mantra since it was established some years ago.

Youths by virtue of their place in the society are change-agents. From the African youth movements that fought colonialism to freedom, to the youths of Ghandi movement of non-violence that gave birth to the modern day 'largest democracy in the world', to the German political youth movement of the 60s, and to the 1989 Tiananmen Square (youth) victims of Prime Minister Li Ping's tyranny, among others, youths have never find it difficult to raise their voices for the voiceless in the society. In fact, many will agree with me that to gag the youths is to cage freedom and development. And since freedom and growth are human desires, it is therefore imperative that we can't but Speak Out!

There are different ways of doing this. The IHEU, International Humanist and Ethical Union, is sponsoring a programme to 'Speak Out', to the world, on the plight of the untouchables all over the world, this June. Later in the year, IHEYO, International Humanist and Ethical Youth Organisation, shall be 'speaking out' in favour of Secularism, state-church separation, all over the world, in Nepal. These are just two of those events that humanists can use in speaking out, in reaching out to everyone concerning the plight of those victims of beliefs, sexuality among other criminal denials of fundamental human rights.

In this edition, we reported cases of 'speak outs', like the Singaporean Pink rally, the Icelandic humanists' induced parliamentary drama, among others. To us, there is need for many of these 'speaking outs', for without them no one will appreciate the value of our struggle. It is therefore pertinent that we, as humanists, find our voices, and speak, loud and clear, against the pervasive injustices all around us.


Yemi Ademowo Johnson, Editor

Thanks to Victor Kay, IHEU is $2.5million richer!

IHEU has received a gift of more than US$2.5 million from the estate of the late Victor Kay, a longtime Humanist who lived in Los Angeles, California. The bequest is the largest individual gift in IHEU’s 57-year history. “This is a transformative, momentum-building gift that demonstrates real leadership on behalf of Mr. Kay,” said Sonja Eggerickx, president of the IHEU. “IHEU is extremely grateful, as this underwrites our efforts as the leader in Humanism around the globe.”

The bequest, to be known as the “Victor Kay Humanitarian Fund”, is a trust fund to be treated as the IHEU’s other endowment funds. Income from the Fund will be available to support IHEU in all of its mission and general operations, starting in 2010.

“Ultimately, endowments are more enduring than even bricks and mortar,” said Eggerickx. “This is an exciting gift for the IHEU, which touches the lives of all of our members. Gifts from Mr. Kay and other generous donors help us to pilot programmes, provide more activities and take advantage of important opportunities that otherwise couldn’t be realized. We hope others will be inspired to contribute to the IHEU’s continuing efforts to build a more humane and rational world.